E Pluribus Unum
One of the fascinating things about rail-trails is the unique story each one has to tell. The many trails that provide me with regular riding and photographic subject matter here in New Jersey are as varied in both terrain and background as the railroads that ran on them. In this case the trail lies in three parts with connecting sections through the old Princeton Nursery site, the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park and the Kingston Trails. The railroad used to run through this area as well and continue up the canal to Rocky Hill. The eastern segment begins at Ridge Road in Monmouth Junction where the railroad branched off of the Northeast Corridor line (its current designation). The western segment trail head is on Kingston Rocky Hill Road in Rocky Hill across from the Trap Rock Industries site, the rock quarry the railroad serviced and which is still in operation today. Finally, the whole trail runs along a corridor known as the Kingston Branch.
The subheading for this section, then, is fitting since the eastern section of this trail is called The Freedom Trail. Out of many, One. That’s very American.
Gallery of the D&R State Park
Connecting Area in Kingston
The Kingston Branch was one of may branch line railroads in the state. Rail traffic along these corridors slowly dried up as the 20th century progressed, with trucks and automobiles becoming more common to move freight and passengers. Not to mention the exponential increase in air travel in the Post War era, which spelled the end for the privately-owned passenger railroad industry (and freight) as it had existed since the mid-19th century. While main lines were consolidated into Conrail and Amtrak most branch lines became disused and in most cases, abandoned or truncated. Luckily, some visionary individuals saw the potential for turning these former rail corridors into multi-use trails. In fact, the Rails To Trails movement can be traced back to the 1960s when the country’s first rail-trail, the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin, was completed and opened in 1967. Since then, scores have followed although the time needed to fully realize the projects seems to take decades.
A Long-Forgotten Siding on The Freedom Trail
Pictured above looking West, then East, respectively, is the railbed of an old siding that wyed off the main branch line to an industrial site on Stouts Lane that is now an industrial park. The trail can be seen at right, then left.
The former Kingston Branch Railroad used to haul ‘trap rock’ used for building roadways from the quarry in Rocky Hill. According to 19th century railroad maps this line was called the Rocky Hill Railroad. Just South of Kingston Village it appears to have turned eastward to Monmouth Junction. Three segments of that part, each about a mile in length, have been converted to trail use and make up South Brunswick’s Freedom Trail. The section from Kingston ends at Route 1; the middle section (now accessible!) runs from the other side of the highway to Stouts Lane. These two sections are a mix of grass, dirt and crushed stone and gravel, but they pass through beautiful wooded areas and are very enjoyable. The third segment is paved and runs for another 1.35 miles to the trail head parking lot in Monmouth Junction. This describes the Freedom Trail from West to East, but it really begins at the East end in Monmouth Junction.
Gallery of The Rocky Hill Railroad Section
Another Step Towards a
The middle section of the Freedom Trail seemed impassable only a year ago, as entry from Stouts Lane was blocked by some kind of temporary storage area erected on the right of way, just behind an industrial park there. The only other way to access this trail section is at the other end at Route 1 through another industrial park; but there was no way to have a continuous ride westward from the paved section. The storage area has since been removed and the right of way now appears to be open, as I happily discovered about 2 weeks ago. It’s a welcome development (and has supposedly been in the works for a while) as it adds another mile to the Eastern section of the trail for a total length of 2.5 miles. This makes for a nice 5-mile roundtrip from the Monmouth Junction parking lot.
A pedestrian bridge will be needed to cross Route 1 and connect to the western Kingston segment. There is already such a bridge on the Middlesex Greenway rail-trail in Woodbridge several miles to the north, so it can be done. I hope that happens soon so that all 3 Kingston Branch segments can be connected thereby creating a continuous trail between Monmouth Junction and the old Princeton Nursery site.
Gallery of the South Brunswick
The bigger picture a Route 1 crossing would afford is a continuous trail all the way to New Brunswick via connection with the D&R Canal Trail. That trail passes through several towns so the benefit for alternative transportation would be felt all along that path. As I say in almost every post, this would be a major addition towards connecting America by rail trails…the way of the future.